Common Name(s): Cuban Mahogany, West Indies Mahogany
Scientific Name: Swietenia mahogani
Distribution: Southern Florida and the Caribbean
Tree Size: 65-100 ft (20-30 m) tall, 3-5 ft (1.0-1.5 m) trunk diameter
Average Dried Weight: 37 lbs/ft3 (600 kg/m3)
Specific Gravity (Basic, 12% MC): .53, .60
Janka Hardness: 930 lbf (4,120 N)
Modulus of Rupture: 10,790 lbf/in2 (74.4 MPa)
Elastic Modulus: 1,351,000 lbf/in2 (9.31 GPa)
Crushing Strength: 6,280 lbf/in2 (43.3 MPa)
Shrinkage: Radial: 3.0%, Tangential: 4.6%, Volumetric: 8.0%, T/R Ratio: 1.5
Color/Appearance: Heartwood color can vary a fair amount with Cuban Mahogany, from a pale pinkish brown, to a darker reddish brown. Typically, the denser the wood, the darker the color. Color tends to darken with age. Mahogany also exhibits an optical phenomenon known as chatoyancy. (See video below.)
Grain/Texture: Grain can be straight, interlocked, irregular or wavy. Texture is medium and uniform, with moderate natural luster.
Rot Resistance: Varies from moderately durable to very durable depending on density and growing conditions of the tree. (Older growth trees tend to produce darker, heavier, and more durable lumber than plantation-grown stock.) Resistant to termites, but vulnerable to other insects.
Workability: Typically very easy to work with tools: machines well. (With exception to sections with figured grain, which can tearout or chip during machining.) Slight dulling of cutters can occur. Sands very easily. Turns, glues, stains, and finishes well.
Odor: No characteristic odor.
Allergies/Toxicity: Although severe reactions are quite uncommon, Cuban Mahogany has been reported as a skin irritant. See the articles Wood Allergies and Toxicity and Wood Dust Safety for more information.
Pricing/Availability: For the most part, Cuban Mahogany is no longer commercially available. Very small quantities are occasionally made available, which tend to be expensive.
Sustainability: This wood species is in CITES Appendix II, and is on the IUCN Red List. It is listed as endangered due to a population reduction of over 50% in the past three generations, caused by a decline in its natural range, and exploitation.
Common Uses: Furniture, cabinetry, turned objects, veneers, musical instruments, boatbuilding, and carving.
Comments: Historically, perhaps the most celebrated and revered cabinet and furniture wood in the world. Cuban Mahogany has been used extensively in cabinetry and furniture-making for centuries in Europe and the United States, being harvested to the point of complete depletion. Nearly 100 years ago, H.O. Neville wrote of the wood’s exploitation in his 1919 work, Hardwoods of Cuba:
For domestic purposes, the Mahogany is used in such freedom that it seems sacrilege to the newcomer from the North, who has known this wood only in its finished and very expensive forms. Many hundreds of cords of this timber, ranging from 12 inches in diameter down, are annually burned under the boilers of our sugar mills and locomotives: hundreds of trees of the proper sizes are annually cut down and rough-hewed into railroad ties; and for posts, corralled fences, and the myriad other uses of the plantation, Mahogany is utilized. There will come a day not very far distant when the waste of this valuable timber will be regretted.
In 1946, Cuba banned all exporting of the wood due to over-harvesting and high demand; it has also been in scarce supply from other sources in the Caribbean as well. Today, the lumber has become so obscure that the term “Genuine Mahogany” now applies almost exclusively to its close substitute, Honduran Mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla), rather than the Cuban wood that for centuries has simply been referred to as “Mahogany.”
Cuban Mahogany’s easy workability, combined with its beauty and phenomenal stability have made this lumber an enduring favorite.